Chopper pilot blinded by light - again

A MAN has appeared in court accused of endangering the life of a helicopter pilot - the second court case of its kind in just four weeks.

Jane Hunt

A MAN has appeared in court accused of endangering the life of a helicopter pilot - the second court case of its kind in just four weeks.

Last month a mentally ill man from Ipswich admitted shining a laser pen at the police helicopter forcing the pilot to veer off course and yesterday 35-year-old old Jonathan Swart appeared in court accused of recklessly endangering the helicopter by shining a powerful torch at it.

On both occasions the safe operation of the helicopter was compromised as the pilot was unable to see the instrument panel after being dazzled by a bright light in his cockpit.

Swart, of Caithness Close, Ipswich admitted shining a powerful torch at the helicopter on August 3 so that he could film it in action, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Sentencing Swart to a four month prison sentence suspended for 12 months Judge John Holt accepted that he hadn't intended to inconvenience the pilot.

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However he said that his actions could have caused the helicopter to crash over Ipswich with serious consequences.

“It was an extremely dangerous act,” he said.

In addition to the suspended sentence Judge Holt made Swart the subject of a 12 moth supervision order and ordered him to attend a “Think First” course.

Peter Gair, prosecuting, said that at about 10.20pm on August 3 Captain William Davies was flying the Suffolk police helicopter 1300 feet above Ipswich when his cockpit was illuminated by a very bright white light which had been aimed directly at the aircraft.

The dazzled pilot, who had two police observers on board, was unable to see his instrument panel and was forced to look away from the beam.

The police observers used infra-red cameras to trace the source of the light and directed officers on the ground to Swart's home in Caithness Close.

Swart had admitted shining a torch at the helicopter because he needed light to film it but denied intending to endanger its safety.

Neil Saunders for Swart described his client's actions as “unthinking” rather than a “malicious deliberate act”.

He said it was important that people realised the danger of shining laser pens and torches at aircraft as it caused the pilot to lose his night vision and put the aircraft and crew at risk.

Mr Saunders said Swart apologised when he realised the potential consequences of what he had done. “He hadn't thought about it until it was pointed out to him.” said Mr Saunders.

Last month Glen Porter, 20, of St Augustine's Road, Ipswich was given a 20 week sentence of detention suspended for 18 months after he admitted endangering the safety of the Suffolk police helicopter on April 27.

Porter's prosecution was the first of its kind in Suffolk.